How are the best made-to-order shoes made?

Or even more broadly, how are the best shoes made?

As someone who has worked in the footwear industry for more than two decades, this is a question I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, self-interrogating myself about and reinvestigating for the betterment of my business and, now, to impart advice to clients and consumers.

Essentially, the best shoe is one that fits the wearer’s specific needs—whatever that means. And the beauty of the made-to-order process is that consumers have more of a say in the decisions that will ultimately result in their perfect shoes.

Read on for the five things questions consumers should ask themselves, and their prospective shoemakers, when seeking out how the best made-to-order shoes are made.

“Will my shoes be made by hand?”

These days, makers use the term “handmade” pretty liberally. Some may use machinery to cut time and, well, costs.

When products are made by experienced artisans from start to finish, rather than by automated machinery, there is an assurance of exceptional quality and that no detail will be overlooked. These artisans dye the leathers to your liking. If your shoe style has perforations, they hand punch the holes. They’re working on the shoes every step of the way and therefore being mindful of the quality and workmanship of the item they’re creating.

Moreover, skilled shoemakers rely on traditional shoe-making techniques, because they’re known to ensure longevity. Such an approach generally includes cutting the basic materials; trimming the leather or fabric; sewing together the necessary pieces; mounting the materials onto the shoe mold; attaching soles to the shoes; and adding details like a shoe tattoo.

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“Will my shoes have a full leather construction, or will other materials be used?”

A shoe’s construction is made from the upper part of the shoe (or simply the uppers), the lining and the soles.

Generally speaking, a high-quality shoe, no matter if it’s a casual or dress shoe, is made entirely from leather (or suede, which is really a form of leather). Though, exceptions to this would be the use of rubber for an outsole, commonly used for a creeper, or thick-soled, shoe, or patent leather for the upper of a dress shoe. Paul Stuart is one such designer who affords the option of rubber or leather. 

Other factors to consider would be the stitching to gluing ratio and general precision of the workmanship. Specifically, the more stitching, the better—so long as it’s generally precise and symmetrical. This is because the glue is known to disintegrate and less capable of being mended later on.

“Are the materials well-sourced?”

True custom service is luxe, so you’ll want to be sure that the materials your prospective shoemaker will be using to create your shoes are nothing short of that.

Color and feel are great indications of exceptional quality. Is the leather richly pigmented? Does it feel buttery soft? It should go without saying that the answers best be “yes” on both counts.

In terms of specific types, calfskin leather, a fine leather, is among the best and used by Salvatore Ferragamo and Berluti. If you’d like to avoid animal-based materials, inquire about synthetic alternatives, though it should be noted that those options are not always biodegradable. (Oftentimes, they’re plastic.)

“Can I pick the structure of my shoe?”

To me, a well-made shoe meets the following criteria: comfort-wise, it will not influence the wearer’s decision to walk some blocks away, while aesthetically, it will be chic and complementary to an ensemble. Ideally, this shoe will last longer and will mold to your foot rather than hold a stiff shape. Though, there are some details and exceptions regarding the fit; that’s where the subject of structure, or the back and heel support of the shoe, comes into play.

The two kinds of structure are summer and fall. The former is more pliable and great for those who prefer to go sockless, while fall structure is stiff and necessary for shoes with heels where shape needs to be maintained. If you’re a person who gets blisters easily or otherwise doesn’t fare well with a stiffer structure, ask your designer if the styles you’ve chosen can be made with a summer (softer) structure for maximum comfort.

If the answer is “no,” you may want to ask which shoe style might be a better option for you, give your concerns. Remember, the made-to-order process is largely a person-to-person experience, so the dialogue is welcome.

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“Have my shoes been designed with intention?”

Rather than following the latest trends, a great made-to-order shoe brand will offer timeless styles.

Yes, the made-to-order process provides the opportunity to create something that is one-of-a-kind; however, with consideration to the designs offered and your taste, the best made-to-order shoe is still a closet essential—one that you can enjoy this season and well into the future from both a style and a quality perspective.

You’re ready to order your pair of made-to-order shoes

Be sure to note, these are just guidelines for acquiring made-to-order shoes. With over 20 years in the fashion industry, Esquivel Shoes takes pride in being a quality resource for shoppers. To learn more about made-to-order shoes or any of the products we offer, send us a note. We’re here to give you peace of mind and help you make the best buying decisions for you.

George Esquivel

George Esquivel

George is a Southern California-based designer and craftsman who designed his first pair of shoes in 1994 and began honing his craft thereafter. For over 20 years, he’s operated his namesake brand, Esquivel, which specializes in handmade shoes and accessories. In the last decade, George served as Creative Director of renowned luxury bag and luggage brand Tumi Inc. and as Creative Consultant for Italian heritage brand Fratelli Rossetti, and has collaborated with many others for his own brand. George was a 2009 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, and has been a CFDA member since 2010. When he’s not working alongside his team of artisans at his atelier, Esquivel House, in Downtown Los Angeles, George is enjoying time with his wife and high school sweetheart, Shelley, and their three grown children. He also loves mountain biking and hosting good friends for dinners and fêtes.